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The Dears:: Gang Of Losers (Album Review)

There are those for whom Blur’s last album, Think Tank, wasn’t the pinnacle of the group’s career but a repudiation of their Britpop ideals. For them, Blur peaked with Parklife, in 1994, since when they’ve been patiently waiting, fingers crossed, for Damon Albarn to exhaust his interest in world music and record 12 variations on ‘This is a Low’, Parklife’s melancholy yet euphoric centrepiece.

Improbably, their prayers have been answered not by Albarn but by the Dears, a Canadian sextet who espouse the best components of mid-Nineties Blur (head-spinning harmonies, enigmatic lyrics, unyielding faith in the power of The Song) while bypassing, happily, their mockney laddishness. In fact, two members of the Montreal band are female – Valerie Jodoin-Keaton and Natalia Yanchak – while the singer goes by the name of Murray Lightburn and sounds like, well, like Albarn were he fostered by Al Green and only owned five albums, every one of them by the Smiths.

Hence, as befits a songwriter in thrall to Morrissey, Lightburn’s fabulously romantic song titles (‘Ticket to Immortality’, ‘Death Or Love We Want You’), are almost the equal of the contents therein. Almost, because when the Dears get it right and Lightburn’s voice soars atop the kind of chiming riff that has long been integral to literate indie-rock yet here, inexplicably, sounds wonderfully novel, they are practically impossible to fault.

The same could be said of a handful of tracks on this album’s predecessor, No Cities Lost, which graced numerous end-of-year polls two years ago. Then, though, the Dears were a more orchestral outfit whose brilliance couldn’t be sustained over an LP. Now, streamlined, the violins largely jettisoned in favour of lyrics that out-Mozzer Morrissey (‘Being born is really such a chore’) and songs as triumphant as ‘There Goes My Outfit’, the Dears sound like a band who have finessed their vision and are ready, finally, to take on the world.

Gang of losers? As Damon Albarn might have put it back when he was walking with the swagger of Ray Winstone and going dog racing with the boys: they’re ‘avin’ a larf, aren’t they?